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Pathways to Discovery: Spring 2013

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Expanding Childhood Cancer Research in Illinois

Illinois taxpayers now have the option to contribute to childhood cancer research, thanks to the dedicated efforts of the mother of a pediatric cancer survivor.

Today, advances in research and treatment have led to an 80% cure rate for pediatric cancers. However, the small percentage of national funds allotted to pediatric cancer research is declining, and cancer remains the number one disease-related cause of death for children.

Laura Lutarewych knows firsthand about the importance of pediatric cancer research because her daughter was treated for leukemia at the University of Chicago Medicine Comer Children’s Hospital. Now in full remission, 5-year-old Atia is the inspiration behind Laura’s charity, Atia’s Project Ladybug Fund, the Chicago chapter of the nonprofit organization founded by reality television star Dina Manzo to support families and children dealing with childhood cancer. The group delivers “Comfort Baskets” filled with thoughtful necessities to families at Comer.

Although Project Ladybug has provided resources to individual families, Laura wanted to raise money for pediatric cancer on a larger scale. Last year, opportunity knocked when she learned that childhood cancer research is not among the funds that taxpayers can make charitable donations to on Schedule G of the state income tax return. With sponsorship from Illinois District 4 Representative Cynthia Soto, Laura appealed to lawmakers in Springfield and received overwhelming support. In August 2012, Governor Pat Quinn passed legislation adding the Childhood Cancer Research Fund to the state’s income tax program.

With this change, academic centers throughout Illinois can apply for state funds to advance the study of pediatric cancers. “The primary hope is that we find a cure but, in the meantime, we need to find better therapies that spare survivors from side effects,” Laura said, referencing the complex and long-term health issues faced by childhood cancer survivors, such as infertility, heart disease, and secondary cancers.

Professor of Pediatrics John Cunningham, MD, said, “Given that our pediatric cancer research program has over 50 people who are focused on understanding the basis of pediatric cancer and developing new therapies, we’re very excited about the opportunities that these additional resources will create.” He is also chief of the Section of Pediatric Hematology/Oncology and the vice-chair for research in the Department of Pediatrics.

“In the current funding climate, these state funds are critical for supporting, maintaining, and enhancing pediatric cancer research.”

Ernst Lengyel